Due to my own stupidity and lack of foresight, many years ago I sold a fine hi-fi system in favour of not having anything at all to play music on so convinced was I that in the brave new world of MP3 we would not require a stack of amplifiers and media playing technology we would only need a computer and maybe a small device that held your complete record collection and would slip into a shirt pocket, and in doing so I instantly made my impressive collection of LP’s completely redundant.
So they remain to this day safely packed away in plastic storage boxes and stuffed into the corner of the loft in this here house surviving three house moves at which point the wife always asks, “Do you really need those…” and I always remind her that the terms of the exclusion order specifically state that she is not to be let within ten yards of my album collection after what she did to my singles collection in 1983.
There is an album that lives in my loft that was not purchased by me at all, it wasn’t given as a gift nor was it stolen by me from Kennedy’s Record Shop, no, The Beatles “Abbey Road” album was loaned to me by the late Albert Hart and I still haven’t got around to giving him it back yet even with him being dead all these years, and more than that it wasn’t even his to lend to me.
The same album is also barely an album at all rather than being a very smooth piece of polished vinyl, it having been played so many times on a record deck that the needle has all but worn it smooth, particularly the side known as “The Medley”, with my copy (my borrowed copy) you could use that side as a mirror.
Albert was a short stocky bloke who owned 50% of a jewelers shop along with his long time best mate Geoff Giles, Albert may have been Jewish, he always told you he was Jewish, he looked Jewish, told Jewish jokes, knew all the Jewish slang, acted as the very essence of a Jewish jeweler, but I don’t think he actually was Jewish, I do know that he was indentured to a Jewish family jewelers when he left school and it was at their hand that he learned the craft of making and repairing all manner of precious metals and stones.
Geoff and Albert were close friends of my father, that is to say that they were one pair of his thousands of friends and contacts, people who he could “do a deal with”, people who would buy things off him and sell things cheaply to him, they all had a regular Thursday night out in the Black Bull after Geoff and Albert had worked late in the shop where they would all tell Jewish jokes and wave their hands around dramatically with phrases like “Oye Vay” and they’d call each other Solly and Hymie, my fathers father had been taught his trade of watchmaking by Russian Jews so maybe they felt it their birthright to pretend to be so and speak with ridiculous accents all night, it probably amused the other customers too.
Sometime in the early 1970s my dad came in from work with some boxes of stuff, and then to our amazement he produced from the boxes a top of the range Leak amplifier and a pair of very heavy Wharfedale speakers, our dad had bought something of great value using his own money, although to be fair he hadn’t bought them in a shop, oh no, the story was finally prised from him that the Wharfedale factory had become customers of his and by means of persuasion with notes of the realm the security guy had obtained some stock for him, our dad never bought anything in what could be called a conventional manner, nor did he ever break a shop window and steal stuff off of the display, he just always found an alternative way to purchase something that strictly speaking should still have been on the company inventory list.
Over the next few weeks he added a Garrod record deck and a Leak tuner and hey presto we suddenly had a pretty good stereo system in the household, in fact we had hi-fi, we had joined the hi-fidelity set and would twiddle knobs all night long trying to eke out of a vinyl record some subtle nuances in the background that normal record players had no hope of transmitting.
But Albert Hart had gone one better for the rumour was that Albert had invested in the very latest of hi-fidelity concepts – quadrophonic sound. Today we know it as “surround sound” and every council house worth its rent has an array of speakers hidden behind chairs, settees and sideboards, but back in the early 1970s quadrophonic sound was a technology that needed precise alignment not only of your four speakers in the room, but careful alignment of your furniture too so as not to spoil the effect, indeed it was said that some converts carefully realigned the walls of their rooms in order to better hear the format in its truest mode.
He invited my father and I to listen to this wonder of the modern age one evening when his wife and daughter had gone out, I was pleased that his daughter was out of the house because she was a few years older than me and had once beat me up in Horsforth Park, I’m a passive creature by habit you see and wouldn’t fight back against a girl, and she terrified me too, that was another reason why I let her beat me up – anyway that was when we were young and now we were teenagers and I’m glad that I didn’t have to face her again or there may have been that awkward moment of recognition when she realised that the last time she’d seen a face like mine it had a busted lip and the start of a good black eye.
Albert arranged us very carefully on the settee, it was VERY important that you sat in EXACTLY the right position for to capture the true quadrophonic effect he explained and once sat down we shouldn’t move, so we sat frozen to the spot and watched while Albert twiddled the knobs on his huge quad amplifier and his two pre-amps and all sorts of other gubbins that filled the recess next to the chimney breast, then with a flourish worthy of the Wizard of Oz he dropped the needle onto the only LP he owned that had been recorded specifically for the quadrophonic format and indicated that we should listen carefully.
I admit that I never expected to hear a train come out of the kitchen door and then move across the front of the living room and finally exit via the door to the dining room, it was pretty impressive and after the train had gone Albert stood there with a beaming smile “Eh? What do you think about that then Solly ?” and my dad had to admit that he’d never heard anything like it before, why it was almost like that train was in the room with us, quite amazing, and how much had all this quadrophonic gear cost anyway.
Albert would not answer the last question and we suspected that it had cost far more then he’d even been prepared to tell his wife for of course this was the 1970s and wives had no knowledge of what their husbands earned or spent, or “the good old days” as some like to call them.
But there was a small problem, for when my father asked Albert to play another record in quad Albert had to admit that he didn’t have anything else apart from the railway train record, he had a huge collection of big band and crooner tunes of the 1950s, but only one thing in quad for this was a new format and the manufacturers had not yet adopted the technique, but they would insisted Albert and this time next year everyone would have a quad system and every LP would start at the kitchen door and exit by the dining room, we nodded sagely, didn’t sound likely but he was our host and we were being polite.
Albert and my father chatted in their slang Jewish-ness way for some time and I grew bored of listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett until Albert walked over to his rack of albums and muttered something about having a Beatles album here somewhere at which point he pulled “Abbey Road” out and asked if I wanted to listen to it, I did, even though it was music from a few years back and The Beatles were no more and when it had finished playing he asked if I’d like to borrow it, so I did.
And I insist that the only reason that I still have it in my possession is because its one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, and because poor dead Albert is long dead now, and of course, his daughter still terrifies me.